Umi Nom, 433 Dekalb Ave, 718-789-8806
Price range: $17-$29 Rating: 4L’s
New York isn’t short on Southeast Asian restaurants. There’s a mediocre fusion spot on nearly every corner of the city, where the essentials of each culture’s cuisine have been abandoned in favor of a dumbed-down, Americanized version of “Asian” flavors. Not so at Umi Nom, Kuma Inn’s little sister in Clinton Hill. Umi Nom’s Filipino and Thai dishes never cross paths, choosing instead to coexist in more traditional forms. There may be dishes on the menu from a few different countries, but don’t call it fusion.
The restaurant itself is cozy and dimly lit, with exposed bulbs dangling from the ceiling. There’s a bar at the entrance (“Umi Nom” literally means “to drink” in Tagal), but the owners are still waiting on a liquor license, so you’ll have to BYO for another couple weeks. Don’t fret — the food is so good, and the staff so inviting, that you’ll be happy even if you decide to bring some Boone’s Farm to accompany your meal.
Like Kuma Inn, the menu at Umi Nom is mostly tapas-style small plates. Everything comes out as soon as it’s ready, so order at your own pace. The first dish we tried was one of the best: tender barbequed rib tips marinated in oyster sauce with garlic, ginger and lemongrass. All that remained after sampling the sticky-sweet, savory chunks of charred meat was a pile of naked bones.
While getting down with the ribs, my friend insisted I try a slice of Chinese sausage with grilled onions and chili-lime sauce. I was hesitant to believe it could be worth it for me to stop stuffing my face with the ribs, but after trying the sweet-tart pork sausage, I’m pretty sure I found my new favorite food. We also had a bowl of tiny Manila clams in black bean sauce. Dunking sticky rice in the spicy, leftover clam juice is the Filipino equivalent of a baguette with Moules Marinieres.
We tried noodle and rice dishes, too, but it would be wise just to stick to small plates at Umi Nom. The chicken Pad Se Ew might have been better with beef and a sweet component, though anything with those fat, wide noodles gets the thumbs up. Similarly, the chicken in our Bahay Kubo fried rice was bland, but at least the dish had more of that tempting Chinese sausage.
Umi Nom is the perfect place to escape the pretension of so many of the city’s other restaurants. The food is no-frills, but the flavors that emerge from the kitchen are so addictive that it’s worth the trek to Clinton Hill, even if you’re without convenient subway access. Just make sure you bring booze.
UPDATE: Several readers have written in to point out that the language spoken in the Philippines is now referred to as Tagalog (or, more officially, via the first commenter below, as “Filipino”). “Tagal” is an antiquated term for the language spoken by the Tagal people, a Malay ethnicity at one time prominent in central Luzon, the largest of the islands that now make up the Philippines (according to Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, pub. 1913). The suffix “(l)og,” (derived from the Greek “to speak”) was added later (as in dialog); so from an etymological perspective, Tagalog simply means “to speak Tagal.” Unfortunately, a restaurant review is not the place for etymological nuance. The L Magazine certainly regrets the error and has had an appropriately stern dialog with Ms. Dulin.